The P45 Fortnight – a reprise

I wrote most of this for a local newspaper column a year ago.  This is an update…


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Many of you will be aware that A level results were released last Thursday and that GCSE results will be announced this Thursday. Of course this is an a hugely stressful time for students and their parents. So much rides on these results. A place at a top university, being able to study the A’levels you wanted or a place on an apprenticeship. Each set of results will have its own story from unbridled success to the feeling of abject failure. For each student the results will be the result of a successful or unsuccessful partnership between the student, their parents and their teachers. It is effected by not only those relationships, but everything that is happening in that student’s life.

Many of you won’t be aware that in the age of high accountability that many Headteachers and teachers this is a very stressful time. This is where a aggregation of the student’s results can result in professionals losing their jobs.

Last week we had looked closely at the Average Point Score (APS) for level 3 qualifications (A’ levels and their equivalents). This is the total score achieved by each student averaged across the institution. Have a high attaining cohort that will tend to take 4 or 5 A levels your score should be well above 800. Have a comprehensive intake, that in the main take 3, you are looking for scores above 700. So the league table is skewed by schools that have high ability intakes and who’s students take more than the required 3 A’ levels. That isn’t to say that a Grammar school Headteacher has any less pressure. They have to ensure that their results are at the top of the league table to ensure healthy numbers the year after from academic children.  This is also one of the key league table battle grounds as selected state maintained grammars do battle with selective private schools.  You can obviously make clunky references to the the Olympics where elites do battle with elites.  But, for these schools the pressure is high to ensure that the decision made by parents when their children were 11 or 13 were correct (see the man suing his son’s private school because he gained 1 GCSE).  This is different for the non selective, we see huge triumphs from students that were able to enter vocational courses and go onto university, most of whom tend to be the first going to a university from their family.  However, at comprehensives we also have the higher attaining who gain straight A*s and are off to Oxford.  I feel it is great to see the full range!

But the league table, as I have explained before, is not a comparison of like for like.  An APS of 600 in a non-selective in a tough area can be more significant that all the schools that post 800+.

Tomorrow is the GCSE results.  These are now will be reported in a very different way, Progress8 or P8, when the league tables are produced sometime in the Autumn.  Now your floor target is your cohort and how they did under you care.   The heartache for staff will still be the student that gets one grade below what is expected.  The problem is that what is expected will only be known once all the results come out.  I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.  Yes you heard it correctly.  The target that you have been aiming at will only be fully known once the exams have been marked and reported.

What does this mean?  Well for me it is seriously not really knowing what the outcomes for our students will be for the first time in 10 years (albeit 2012 was tough with the change in grade boundaries).  This is the first year that I am actually unsure.  We had an incredibly hardworking Year 11, but our success or failure will be their performance measured against all the other schools nationally.  If they have done well it will be a positive score, perhaps an exciting 0.75.  Done ok and it will be around 0.  Done badly enough to give you sleepiness nights it will be below -0.5.

So, both results days, require all students to perform consistently across that exam season, for GCSE that involves over 20 exams. When you look at the headline figures you don’t know about the child who has spent the last 6 months in hospital. Or the student that has collapsed under the pressure. Or the one who’s parent has died recently. Each of those children who make up the overall headline figure for the league table are individuals with different backgrounds, ability, home lives, relative poverty or wealth, interested or not interested parents. Yet schools are held responsible for the performance of the students no matter what is going on in the other 18 hours of their day.

So if you know a student, a parent, a teacher or a headteacher, have a thought for them over the next fortnight. Lives are changed irreversibly at this time.


Technology in Schools



There is a very famous youtube video called ‘shift happens’, where the future world is laid out in front of us and has shaped some of the direction of education thinking.  To summarise, we need technology literate children to cope with what is coming.  This with additional pupil premium funding has seen, what can only be called an arms race, in schools to equip the pupils with ever more expensive shiny kit.

Fifteen years ago saw a similar technology race to equip every classroom with an interactive white board.  A piece of kit that sucked budgets dry and is very rarely used beyond a screen to show PowerPoints.  This time the general move tends to be towards 10 inch screens with a picture of a bitten apple on the back.

Now I am not particularly a dinosaur when comes to technology.  I use a smart phone and tablet for work and in lots of situations they are hugely useful.  My tablet is full of documents to read, typed and handwritten notes, to do lists and web pages I want to read later.  My calendar and emails sync seamlessly across platforms and devices.  I have made fantastic contacts through social media.

My point here is that I studied O and old style A levels.  There was no thought to the future world that we might inhabit.  Key to sorting children’s ability was knowledge acquisition, regurgitated on to an exam paper at the end of the course.  With the current examination system heading back to these tests, I honestly ask “what is the point of huge amount of technology in a classroom”.  Yes I can see the research and revision that can be done, but typing, and watching are second class learning techniques.  In a paper published in April last year in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.  If to prove your knowledge you will have to write for a minimum of two hours, a keyboard skills are just not going to cut it.

So, as a nation we have a dilemma we either we have to admit that our current examination regime is not producing the students that we need because they need the technology or agree that the 19th Century skills of recall, handwriting, spelling and grammar are the way forward.  I believe that the current technology that children use with ease are a fantastic tool, but ultimately it won’t help them be successful in tests that were invented over 60 years ago.  And, by the way, I am still waiting for the hoover board promised in the 1980s.


So real world scenario…your boss tells you he/she needs a report from you and they must have it in two hours. It’s on a topic that you know about, so that’s fine. The boss leads you to the report writing room where you find a pen, pencil, paper and a calculator. The title of the report is on a board he writes the time on the board and tells you to start. Sound odd but familar? Well of course it is exactly what we ask hundreds of thousands students to do every year to prove their worth.

Denmark has taken the bold step to allow students to use the internet in final exams. Try that here, que Daily Mail and Universities complaining of “dumbing” down and that exams were harder bla bla. The examination system hasn’t realy changed in 60 years, but the world has. I am sure that in every decade until the naughties, that system was still relevant. People had to remember facts in professional jobs. But, since then the way work has change massively. Business, academia, professions etc require people with different skills. My interaction with information has changed massively in the last year, my Iphone and Twitter have opened up new streams of information. These are instant access to info, no debates or arguments anymore as the correct answer is a few taps away. I an writing this blog on my phone while my wife watches a programme stored on Sky+.

Recently a barrister joined my school to become a teacher. The students couldn’t believe that she couldn’t remember case citation. But, as she explianed, she didn’t have to. Internet, law books at hand and colleagues were all available to help. The key skills were problem solving, arguement, explanation, negociation etc. The information needed was secondary.

So future of examinations? Cold gyms, silence, no references, no talking, no mobile phones, no laptops etc. Or assess the outcome not the method. Yes ensure that the work is original, but allow access to the info. The brightest students will still be able to discuss at a higher level, the hardworkers will be able to prepare, the result will show creative problem solvers. but the pressure of remembering facts would go.

If it ever happens wait for the headlines!!!!